A review of chalk borders by Sarah St Vincent Welch

Reviewed by Beatriz Copello

chalk borders
by Sarah St Vincent Welch
Flying Island Books
Pocket paperback, ISBN: 9780645219623, 2021, 116pp

chalk borders by Sarah St Vincent Welch is a very small book with a big impact. In spite of its pocket size, it actually contains 114 poems and many illustrations by the poet. chalk borders reflects many aspects of Post-structuralism that transcend irony. St Vincent Welch’s poetry is characterised by originality, sincerity and engagement. Some of the poems have nostalgic overtones, while others leave room for complex reader interpretation and simultaneous meanings. The following poem titled “blue colour” is an example of a poem which can be interpreted in many ways:

is primary
now on the wheel
howling as it turns — turns
swirling on a pin like the sky
the ocean’s trenches diving into
someplace else a pool beneath a tree
inside a painted house a hanging door
blue in daub dab on mirror frame
swinging window sky inside
digging up from under
black dog bites

As a psychologist I recognise the impact of panic attacks, a not a very pleasant experience. In the poem “night” the poet cleverly and lightly suggests the anxiety that raises at the prospect of a panic attack:

Morpheus leans his elbow
into my chest.
I’m not a panic attack, he says
I’m the God of sleep
you know that
he’s checking his mobile
he swaps elbows
I gasp a shuddering breath
Morpheus shifts his weight
he’s onto click bait now
so I’m most likely stuck
the phone rings
he gets up

Some of the poems in this collection deal with the domestic and the everyday things. The poet handles these issues creatively, yet in very simple language. The following poem titled “to the pink and green café chairs” is an example:

can I tell you of my chairs at home?
one is a washing basket
another a laundry sorter
a computer chair (wide girthed)
a piano stool (distant relative
I know
not really a chair)

St Vincent Welch’s considerable imagination is apparent in various poems, for example, “topographies”, which shows extended metaphors and unique rhythms:

if we were sewn together, stitched
will to will, our seams outside
would we be a parachute
a bedsheet a handkerchief
or fanciful rags
could we be hemming
a Christo and Jeanne-Claude wrap
larger than cliffs
than public outcries
than kilometres of red tape
a Wonder

There are a few narratives in the book. One that particularly impressed me was about a wedding dress where the poet gives life to an unanimated object. “the wedding dress” is accompanied by a beautiful photograph where a wedding dress appears reflected on a city street. The collection also includes a few ekphrastic poems, such as “Civic ekphrastic”, written after Matthew Harding’s sculpture “Ebb and Flow”:

in the shareway
concentric circles
flow and ebb
I feel for a step
beside the ripples
there, there, there
a step in memory
but the surface is smooth
I feel with a sole shuffle
no dip, or stumble
edge forward edge
as if I’ll fall
into a future city

In many of St Vincent Welch’s poems the reader will be confronted not only with humour but also hints of sarcasm and irony, for example, “animals of Watson” which is accompanied by a photo of two languishing dogs:

animals of Watson
tabby in the high window
the motif
for me everyday
she glances down
lanky Silvester
Irish Wolfhound
knows our language well

If you want to read poetry that is a bit different, interesting, creative, unconventional and contemporary you must buy and read chalk borders.

About the reviewer: Dr Beatriz Copello writes poetry, fiction, reviews and plays. The author’s poetry books are: Women Souls and Shadows, Meditations At the Edge of a Dream, Flowering Roots, Under the Gums Long Shade, and Lo Irrevocable del Halcon (In Spanish). Beatriz’s poetry has been published in literary journals such as Southerly and Australian Women’s Book Review and in many feminist publications.